17 Cringeworthy Email Tactics to Avoid
cringeworthy email

If we've been chums for a while then you'll know I'm a big advocate of email marketing. I KNOW that it can be an incredibly effective way to build relationships AND to sell.

It's not a magic pill though and if you don't take the time to learn how to do it right, well, like anything else, it's just going to be a big ol' waste of your time. 

And the fact is, there are an awful lot of people out there who aren't doing it right. Not by a long shot. You'll have seen them yourself  - those cringeworthy emails which land in your inbox and have you rolling your eyes and hitting the delete (or worse, the unsubscribe) button...

I wanted to make sure I had all my angles covered for this post so I decided to check-in with perhaps the best qualified group of people when it comes to what makes a great email - and what makes a totally cringeworthy one: Copywriters. So I posted in a copywriting Facebook group I'm in and asked for examples of bad, embarrassing or just downright sleazy email tactics and these were the responses I got..

1) Bad Subject Lines

Let's face it, this is the ultimate gaff when it comes to email. You can spend all the time in the world crafting the perfect email copy, the ultimate design and template - but if the subject line sucks then no one's going to see all your hard work.

Please spend some time crafting a subject line which is going to attract and intrigue your audience. And if you're not sure how - well you should definitely take a look at my Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing!

2) 'Trick' Subject Lines

You know the ones I mean...

"RE: our catch-up call" (as if the email is part of an on-going conversation - when it really isn't..)

"TEST" - when it's no such thing

"Your order is on the way" - when you haven't actually made an order

Ugh... bad subject lines are lazy marketing but these are even worse!

At least with a bad subject line, your subscriber just shrugs and moves on. With a 'trick' subject line, they'll probably open your email but then when they see they've been misled, they'll feel pretty annoyed - maybe even annoyed enough to hit unsubscribe.

,,, Maybe even annoyed enough to share your shady subject line with others as an example of what not to do.

Please don't try to 'trick' your subscriber into opening your email. It may improve your open rates but it's also going to destroy any trust and increase your unsubscribes and complaints.

Plus it's icky.

3) Poor Spelling or Grammar

Now I'm not saying you need to sound like text book when you write your emails - in fact emails which sound chatty and informal will generally be much better received than something which sounds like it was written by a robot.

So feel free to include all the slang, colloquialisms or even made-up words you like (assuming it's in line with your brand). 

What we don't want to see are unintentional errors which just show a lack of care or attention to detail.

Look, I'll hold my hand up right now and say that my emails have definitely contained the odd typo - we're all human after all. BUT please do whatever you can to reduce this. 

Proof read

Get someone else to proof read for you

Use tools like Grammarly if you want an extra level of protection

Most people will forgive the occasional error, but when it becomes a regular occurrence, then you'll start to lose credibility - and subscribers.

4) Pretending to have Poor Spelling or Grammar

I hadn't come across this before but apparently it's a thing... The idea being that you use the opportunity to send another email with a subject line along the lines of 'Sorry for the typo' - which of course creates a certain amount of curiosity (because we all love to see people make mistakes!) and so increases open rates.

Sneaky! (Don't do it).

5) Making People Feel Bad

This one is RIFE. There seems to be a school of thought or some kind of marketing tactic gone bad, which says that in order to sell you must BEAT PEOPLE INTO SUBMISSION!

"You'll never be good enough (unless you buy my stuff)"

"If you won't invest a tiny $5000 then don't expect to ever succeed..."

I'm sure you've seen stuff like this too.

Personally, I don't want any of my clients to sign up because they've felt bullied into it. That's hardly the foundation of a strong relationship amIright?!

6) Poor Personalisation

I bet we've ALL had one of these:

"Hey FIRST NAME!"

"Dear <COMPANY NAME>"

Personalisation works really well IF you have good data but if you don't, then you can come off looking a little bit silly. Worse, you have the exact opposite impact that you were going for.

While personalising helps your subscriber to feel like you're talking directly to them, the above examples make it abundantly clear that you're not...

Check your data and make sure you're only using personalisation for data you've actually collected! If you don't ASK for someone's first name when they subscribe, then don't try to use it in your emails...

7) Over-use of 'Last Chance' & 'One Off Sales'

Don't get me wrong, BOTH of these types of emails are great and can be a really impactful way to sell your stuff.

BUT they MUST be done genuinely. The second you start emailing about the same 'One off' each week or offering the same 'last chances' five times, is the second that you lose your credibility - and... you've guessed it...your subscribers.

8) Awkward or Forced Sharing

I saw an example of this recently where a business owner sent an email telling his subscribers that he and his wife had just had a baby... and so to celebrate, he was going to run a special promotion for his audience... cos that's how we all love to celebrate a new birth, right? 🤦‍♀️

It came off as completely awkward and like he was using his new baby as an excuse to be salesy.... 

The thing is, it could have worked.  If he had let his subscribers in on the whole journey - if becoming a Dad was a regular part of his content then his readers would have felt part of the story. They'd be cheering him on - and when that baby was born, they'd absolutely want to celebrate with him.

Some of the best email marketers out there, use storytelling in order to engage their readers - and sell to them. And it works! You see, stories evoke emotion and they're memorable. How often do you remember a tagline you read on an ad somewhere?

Not very often, right?

But stories? We remember those!

You know what else really works well? Sharing parts of our personal stories and life. After all, we all know that people want to work with people, not businesses...

The thing is, these strategies are just that... strategies. And you need to know how to use them properly.

Just sharing random personal stories or facts about your day makes you come off a bit weird at best and completely self-obsessed at worst!

I follow a guy called Tyler McCall on Instagram and he always shares fun stuff about himself and his life.  It's one of the reasons he's so popular.  His love for Target is one of the things he chats about a LOT. And even though this has nothing to do with his business (helping people use Instagram to grow their businesses), it works.  Here's why:

  • Tyler knows that his ideal clients are also the kind of people who love Target - and so by talking about his love for Target, he is being relatable.
  • He is consistent in talking about this topic - it's even on his Insta bio! By doing this - his love of Target isn't just some random fact, it's part of his brand. It's one of the ways we remember him... 'Who's that guy on Instagram who really loves Target?' 'Oh yeah... Tyler McCall - love that guy!'

So, the moral of the story is DO share personal stuff but make sure that you're consistent and make sure there's a strategic purpose behind what you share.

9) Too Many Images

Images in email is a topic which seems to divide people.

There's one school of thought which says that an email without images is boring and even a bit unprofessional.

In contrast, it's also said that emails without images get more engagement because they appear more like an email we might get from friends and family.

The fact is, both can be true and there really is no right or wrong answer regarding whether to include images in your emails. You need to test what works for you and your audience.

Too many images on the other hand...

Well, that just gets annoying AND it slows down the loading speed of your email so might even drive your subscribers away before they actually get to read the good stuff...

Everything in moderation my friend... 😉

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10) Too Many Calls To Action (CTA)

Every email that you send should have some kind of purpose. It could be:

  • Brand building
  • Driving traffic to your content
  • Selling your stuff

... whatever it is, that purpose needs to be clear to your reader and so you need to include a call to action. Here are some great examples of calls to action you might include:

  • Let's connect on Facebook!
  • Check out my latest blog post
  • Reply to this email and tell me ...
  • Book a discovery call
  • Buy now!

Now, every email should include one CTA, but it's rarely a good idea to include more than that. You see, if you give people too many choices, they end up choosing nothing. Seriously, it's been proven in studies and everything!

11) No Hook

Every email needs a 'hook'. That is, something to entice your reader to keep reading once they've opened the email.

You have just a few lines to pique someone's interest and after that, your subscriber will either stick with you or click away to the next piece of content calling for their attention. 

Here are a few ways you can create a 'hook' in your emails:

  • Ask a thought provoking question
  • Tell a story
  • Make a promise
  • Remind them of a problem they're experiencing

12) Constant Pitching

If you're not using your emails to sell then you're doing it wrong.

BUT - if you're selling too much then you're doing it wrong too....

I know, I know - how on earth are you supposed to get the balance right?

The secret is to sell, while also giving value. That way, it doesn't feel like selling - to you OR your subscribers. 

'Yes, thanks Colette but I've still got no clue what you mean...'

That's fair. Let me explain! There are ways to talk about your products and services and to show their value, without sounding like a door to door salesman. There are also ways to give huge value to your subscribers while also promoting your products and services.

Here are a few examples:

  • Mini-training with paid upgrade: Why not send an email which teaches something and gives your reader a quick win? Then tell them what they can do for a more in-depth experience...
  • Storytelling: we've already talked about the power of storytelling - here it can be used to drive an important point home, whilst also promoting the power of what you do..
  • Testimonial: For your readers it's inspiring to see how other people in their situation have found success - and for you it's a chance to show them how you can help them to achieve it.

13) Too Long (For No Good Reason)

We've all got busy lives and overcrowded inboxes so you don't wanna be that guy who sends the 4000 word mega-email which drones on and on without ever really getting to the point or giving value to your readers.

Every. single. word. counts.

So always check what you've written and if there's no real value in a sentence - either to your subscriber or to you, then get rid!

If you know that every single one of those 4000 words is brimming with value then go ahead and hit send - but you'd better be sure because if not, you'll be seeing a whole lotta unsubs coming your way...

14) Over Clingy

Oooh, these are SUPER awkward. I've recently talked about the importance of sending re-engagement emails when you have subscribers who aren't opening or engaging with your emails. I also mentioned that you have to be careful with how you approach these or you can come off a bit desperate...

  • ‘Did I do something wrong?’
  • ‘Don’t you like me?’
  • ‘Are you ok?’

These are all subject lines that I've seen in action and they're not pretty. Instead just be direct. Try something like this...

  • Just checking you still want to receive these?
  • I'm having a clear out - would you like to stay on my list?
  • Please open if you want to continue getting these emails

15) Over Hyped or Cliché Language

I think I could write an entire post about just this... in fact, maybe I should! 🤔

There are so many words and phrases in the online business world which have been so over-used that now they're just meaningless...

  • Revolutionary
  • Best in class
  • Girl Boss
  • Thought leader

I could go on.. and on.. and on...

It all brings us back to the point I made earlier. Every single word counts so use them wisely and don't waste them on meaningless guff and cliché.

(PS. What are your pet hates when it comes to commonly use words and phrases in business? Let me know in the comments - perhaps I'll include yours in my post!)

16) Fake-Bragging

No one likes a bragger! As soon as you start going on and on about all the money you're making and flash cars you're driving, your subscriber is going to feel less connected with you.

There is a time and a place to talk about your achievements and your earnings and that's as part of your story. If your subscriber can see where you came from, the challenges you faced and how you overcame them to reach your success then that's inspiring - if you're just rubbing your success in their face for no reason, well that's just annoying...

17) Over Gushy

Have you ever met someone who you don't really know that well but who completely over-shares and gets in your personal space a bit? 

That's what it feels like when you're OVER friendly in your emails.

Yes, be friendly - your emails should be helping you to build a relationship after all. You want your personality to shine through...

BUUUUT remember you're NOT best friends and acting like you are is just going to make you seem a bit OTT at best - and fake at worst.


What have I missed? Any cringeworthy emails you've seen recently? Let me know!

Try these 3 simple exercises to hone your copywriting skills and start writing like a pro

I've created a worksheet with 3 little exercises that you can try which will help you to strengthen your writing muscles and increase your copywriting confidence 😉

Pop your details below now and I'll send them right over to you!

(You'll also be subscribing to my weekly newsletter, along with occasional updates about my products and services)

Get your FREE 3 Copywriting Exercises to Start Writing Like a Pro
Colette Broomhead

Helping you to leave your 9-5 behind for good and create a business and life you love.